Milk & Bone: A Delicate Duality
words Katie Small
photography Ronald Yeung
shot on location at The Standard, East Village
Milk & Bone are masters of juxtaposition: hard and soft aesthetics, like good water pressure in a cold rainy summer, fruity lipstick on your cheek, a game of truth or dare. With lyrics dripping in evocative imagery, dreamy melodies weave an immediate and sensitive energy that is at once delicate and deliberate. The brittle sincerity of their words, raw emotion wrapped up in stark synthesized rhythms and the melancholy whispering of the enchanting vocals create a strange duality that is somehow both foreign and soothing.
The Montreal-based duo, consisting of Laurence Lafond-Beaulne & Camille Poliquin, got their start at music school, where both artists were studying jazz singing. They had originally met while performing together in David Giguère’s band – Camille was a vocalist and Laurence played electric bass. According to Laurence, that’s when they started to become close friends, but it wasn’t until Misteur Valaire asked them to record a vocal feature together that they realized they should make their own music: “It was really quick, really easy, we worked together really well so we figured we should just start putting together what we had.”
When they’re not working together on Milk & Bone, Camille sings vocals for advertising gigs and Laurence plays synth and sings with two separate bands as a touring musician: “It’s great ‘cause we get to work and make music and not have a job in a coffee shop or whatever anymore… our jobs are entirely music-related.” Jealous? Me too.
Although they sing in English, their accents are entirely French in origin, which gives Laurence’s speaking voice a lovely lilting quality, reminiscent of her pristine vocals on their new album’s second track, “Easy to Read”. Little Mourning, Milk & Bone’s debut, came out just over a month ago in March; Laurence explained the back and forth writing process made possible by iPhone: “Usually how it works is one of us will start writing a song on our own, and we record our ideas a lot on the iPhone… we record and then we send to the other one, and if she likes it then we work on it together. So it can be the chorus, it can be a whole song, it can be just chords or whatever, and if the other person likes it then we work together on the song.” Based on their contrasting aesthetic, this give-and-take approach seems like a natural fit.
In the studio, Milk & Bone received valuable guidance from their long-time friend and producer, Gabriel Gagnon. “He’s a really close friend and we wanted to have our friends work with us on this project; we wanted to keep it fun and simple….It went really well, he’s a really, really good musician.” Gabriel mixed the album, and other than a few instrumentalists who came in to play guitar parts [i.e. the solo in “Coconut Water”], it was just the three of them in the studio. According to Laurence, Gabriel “helps us with new ideas and helps us to go where we have trouble going.”
As far as lyrics are concerned, each musician tends to contribute an equal amount. “I think it’s pretty 50/50,” Laurence said. “Camille wrote all the lyrics for ‘Watch’ and I wrote the rest of the song, but then in the studio she helped so much for the ending and stuff.” Whenever one of them gets stuck on a verse, the ever-omnipotent iPhone makes an appearance once again and allows them to steer each other in a new direction. “We really try to work on everything together.”
A large part of Milk & Bone’s intrigue comes from the unique way they blend genres – their musical style is hard to pin down, which is probably due to their different backgrounds and influences. According to Laurence, “when Camille was a teenager she listened to a lot of Top 40 and pop music and I was more into funk, blues, jazz, hip-hop music….so of course we write in a really different way but that’s what makes, I think, our songs interesting. We have two different approaches to writing music, and when we put it together we create something special and different.”
Struggling to define their sound is difficult, but I asked Laurence to take a stab at it any. The term she came up with was “pop-electro synth band, with a major focus on synth and vocals.” Both artists studied singing in school, and originally came together as a vocal duet, so unsurprisingly their voices are what make them stand out. “It’s important to us that the vocals are really present. We like to use them sometimes kind of in the way you use synthesizer to do chords, but to do this with our vocals…so that’s kind of a signature for us, to use the voice as an instrument.” Each track reveals an intimate chemistry between their haunting vocals, which weave their captivating energy throughout the album. Their voices undeniably take on a category of their own.
The duo crafted their name just like they craft their songs: equally and from opposite directions. Laurence’s family name is Bone, which she has used on and off as a pseudonym. Camille contributed Milk, which was taken from a long list of names she’d had in mind for future projects. “When we put those two together we thought it sounded beautiful and we kinda liked the duality…. in the album we combine a lot of soft melodies with really cold and raw arrangements of synth, so we kind of like to work with this hard and soft duality a lot. It was a natural name for us. And we like how it sounds.”
When asked what Milk & Bone has been listening to recently, Laurence quickly rattled off a list of other eclectics: folk singer Jessica Pratt, the new Björk album and Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear. “As far as music that we both love and that inspired us for the project, we could say James Blake, Beach House, FKA Twigs, and Radiohead. We like CHVRCHES a lot too.” Listen for the CHVRCHES influence in the child-like vocals on the album’s last track, “Watch.”
If Milk & Bone could see any dead or defunct musician perform live, it would have to be jazz trumpet player and singer Chet Baker (note: NOT Faker). “He's an artist that we both love and probably the artist we listen to the most. He was an amazing melody writer and has a sensibility in his voice that you rarely find. He was also an amazing improviser and an amazing trumpet player, his music is so calming. He has the voice of an angel, he just sings so well. So yeah, I think we would have a drink and have a private show with Chet Baker and it would be an amazing night.”
When faced with our signature question, Laurence needed time to deliberate. In the end, she concluded: “Not much creeps us out… we kind of enjoy creepy things actually…”
Keep on creepin’.
Posted on May 19, 2015.
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